C’mon, Man

Never underestimate the destructive power of a stubborn old narcissist with something to prove.

Ideally no one gets hurt along the way: Maybe grandpop refuses to give up his license, drives into an oak tree, and only the car gets totaled. But sometimes there are casualties: Maybe a pedestrian gets hit.

President Joe Biden, 81, is acting like one of history’s most negligent and pigheaded leaders at a crucial moment, and right now, we are all pedestrians.

Since his debate debacle nearly two weeks ago, much of America has been locked into the classic “Will he or won’t he?” cliffhanger. Will Biden step aside and not run for reelection, as massive majorities of voters have for years said they want him to do? Or will he persist in pursuing one of the most ill-fated and ill-advised presidential campaigns ever carried out?

The spectacle has been endlessly depressing, unless you’re Donald Trump or want him back in the White House—in which case you’re relishing this slowly unfolding, self-owning, party-destroying wreck. Next week’s Republican National Convention is shaping up to be a week-long Mardi Gras of MAGA in Milwaukee.

“The radical-left Democrat Party is divided, in chaos, and having a full-scale breakdown,” Trump said during a rally in Miami last night, sounding downright giddy. This was a rare declaration from Trump that checks out as 100 percent true. “They can’t decide which of their candidates is more unfit to be president,” Trump continued. “Sleepy Joe Biden or Laughing Kamala.” He taunted Biden by challenging him to another debate, followed by an “18-hole golf match.”

All of this has been thoroughly dispiriting to the majority of Americans who are eager to vote for someone besides Trump. It could easily get worse, too: Imagine what the September debate could look like for Biden if it bears any resemblance to the Accident in Atlanta. Imagine Election Night, or whatever unfolds after, while Biden licks his wounds and ice-cream cones back in Rehoboth Beach and staggers into his forced and disgraced retirement. His legacy-scorers will not be kind. Historians will be brutal. And Biden will deserve his own special place in the pantheon of Great Leaders Who Refused to Go Gracefully, to Tragic Effect.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hold my prune juice.

It is now obvious that Biden has in no way internalized the disaster toward which he is defiantly ambling—or, more to the point, toward which he is leading his party and his country (and, for that matter, NATO, Ukraine, thousands of as-yet-not-deported immigrants, and unprosecuted Trump “enemies”). He seems fully indifferent to any consideration beyond his own withered pride and raging ego.

“I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and did the good as job as I know I could do,” Biden said in what was probably the most quoted line—and not favorably—from his Friday-night interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “That’s what it’s all about” is how Biden ended that thought, which seemed to unleash a furious internal cry from so many viewers: No, that’s not what this is all about.

C’mon, man.

“That is the answer that most concerned me,” Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, said Sunday morning on NBC’s Meet the Press. “This is not just about whether he gave it the best college try.” Wasn’t this, supposedly, about the fate of democracy? Existential threats and all the big words and phrases that Biden and his campaign have been tossing out for months? You have to wonder, in retrospect, if they were sincere about how must-win this election really was, given how cavalier Biden sounds.

As of now, it looks as if Biden is committed to “riding this out” and “staying the course,” no matter how unfit he might be for the ugly course ahead. This is, maddeningly, the only consideration that now matters, because Biden is the ultimate decision maker. Democrats have no practical way to force him out of the race, except hoping that he comes around and is willing to place the country’s best interests ahead of his own. Corny idea, right? But he controls this story, which since the debate has only made him look more and more foolish, selfish, and, yes, likely to lose.

In the shell-shocked aftermath of Atlanta, many pointed out that at least there was time to do something. It was only June. Biden could reconsider whether it was wise to keep going. No shortage of Biden allies from the Democratic consultant and donor classes, elected office, and the media called—almost immediately—for him to end his campaign. “The next few days will be critical,” they said—for Biden to come around; for Democrats to assess their situation and figure out a Plan B (Kamala Harris?), Plan C (A mini-primary?), or Plan Something Else.

Democrats have now been saying “the next few days will be critical” for nearly two weeks. Roughly half of them seem more than eager for Biden to get over himself so they can get on with the business of saving themselves. But Biden controls the clock, which is ticking, and which he seems determined to run out.

“Biden is treating us the way Trump has treated Republicans for a decade,” the columnist Josh Barro wrote yesterday on Substack. “He’s pointing a gun at the head of the Democratic Party and threatening to shoot if he doesn’t get his way.”

Clearly the White House has no serious answer for people’s widespread and legitimate doubts about the president’s capacity to serve, let alone for another four-year term. “Watch me” has been Biden’s glib rejoinder to this question since he came into office—disingenuous at best, given how rare his press conferences, interviews, and unscripted appearances have been. When voters do have the chance to watch Biden—as 50 million debate-viewers did—the results can be grim.

The other go-to response to nervous Democrats from Biden loyalists has been, simply, “Calm down.” “The polls are wrong.” “Joe’s got this.” “Don’t be a bed wetter!” (“I’m not sure incontinence is the metaphor you want to go with,” Jon Stewart pointed out Monday on The Daily Show.)

Few elected Democrats have called for Biden to step aside. Instead, they keep insisting that they support him as their nominee—albeit, in many cases, as if they’re saying so with the aforementioned gun to their head. Trump is on track “to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide and take with him the Senate and the House,” Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado told CNN’s Kaitlin Collins last night. “The White House has done nothing since the debate to demonstrate they have a plan to win this election.” But he, too, stopped short of asking Biden to withdraw.

It seems obvious that the White House has no plan, except to continue to keep Biden mostly out of view and limit him to set-piece and teleprompter appearances. One rare exception to this will occur tomorrow, when Biden will preside over a much-anticipated press conference with other leaders at a NATO summit, a spectacle that will almost certainly be dominated by questions about his age and fitness. It says something about the bleak state of affairs that more than one prominent Democrat I’ve spoken with in recent days said they secretly hope Biden face-plants again. “This is a terrible thing to say,” one White House official told me. “But that might be the only thing that could force him out at this point, while there’s still time to rewrite the ending.”

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